The month started when families were still getting used to cautious re-uniting; when the popular view was that the virus was mostly beaten; that young people were unfathomably immortal; and that everything was back to normal apart from crowds (unless at raves, parliamentary meetings of Tory MPs, grouse-shooting parties, fox-hunting possees or Trump rallies), hugging, kissing and rugby. The Premier League season started after an augenblick and the less mindful of the popular reality TV shows returned – making it feel like the curtain call on a time-limited stay at a cultural health spa. Alli’s birthday weekend was planned during this false dawn and our daughters plus partners came to Burgess Hill to celebrate it. Ella and I had lightly lunched together at the Bull in Ditchling on Friday; Gwen, Ella and Sam came with us for a bracing walk around Devil’s Dyke and through Poynings on Saturday; and Jessie and Jurrat joined us for Sunday lunch at Jeremy’s, a great local restaurant. It was so good that Alli photographed each plate (and I don’t mean our feet). Borde Hill has a planter’s paradise aspect, a meticulous garden in rolling acres of parkland, where open-air concerts are regularly held. As we arrived, the first Baez-like bars of the dark US country classic ‘The long black veil’ drifted over like illicit smoke.
After lunch Alli and I, with our dogs Bonnie and Max, drove off westward ho for our long-awaited holiday, to arrive a bathetic hour later in a tiny chalet-come-cottage at the southern end of Hayling Island, about 10 minutes’ walk to the beach. Over the next 6 days our activities were entirely cynophile. Bonnie and Max could scarcely believe their luck. They had 100% attention and three, sometimes four walks a day in and around the island. They came practically everywhere with us, including to all pubs and restaurants. On our walks we met dozens of other dogs and their owners, also all cynophiles, even more ridiculously than us. But the energetic walks did us good (although Alli accused me of walking “at a snail’s pace”) and we averaged about 8 miles a day. We tramped around most of the outer circuit of the island, often starting from one of the several marinas on the island, and covered the length of the Hayling Billy trail, the remains left by the old railway track and the ‘Puffing Billy’ that once pulled in, packed with buckets and spades, from the mainland. Twice we walked along the main beachfront. On one occasion it was rum-rum-rumbling with hundreds of bikers in black leather with grey beards. An old friend of mine came instantly to mind. We walked a large part of Thorney Island (next island to the right), although much of it was restricted by the Ministry of Defence; the public path limited to a narrow coastal trail for thin people and dogs. We tried the local fish and chips one evening and ordered some fresh crab from a rugged fisherman’s son. We sampled the fare at the Ferryboat Inn, the Barley Mow, the Yew Tree Inn, and the Drift Bar at Sparkes’ Marina. We walked around tidy Itchenor and West Wittering at the south-western tip of Sussex before paying a visit to Jessie’s friend Jenny and her daughter in Chichester where I made a first and long-wished acquaintance with its compact but intense cathedral while Alli bought some gold ear-rings from me for her birthday. We also walked the length of the long chalk ridge of Portdown Hill, with its remarkable panoramic view of Portsmouth. The next day, after failing to find the forest walk that I had prepared, we ambled randomly around thatchy Hambledon, the home of cricket, before having a pub lunch at the Chairmakers’ Arms with our friend Fionnuala. Organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage should be more precise (than a slipshod postcode) about the location of the walks that they promote. Grid references are not for everyone, but https://what3words.com/ could help. On our way back to Burgess Hill we walked around Bramber Castle’s impressive motte, massive bailey, deep ditch and assorted ruins including a 14-metre-high fragment of the keep. Our long walks and the sea air (not always so sweet around the mud flats) ensured that we all slept well, with early nights and mornings in our tiny but well-formed cottage. We let our sleeping dogs lie like logs. It was a great holiday.
Lionel, Hayling Island, 10 September 2020
With Uncle Nick, who drove, as I could not locate my UK driving licence, we moved Ella, Sam and their belongings from Richmond to Burgess Hill, where they will henceforth live in their first owned property together. I recollected the sheer enjoyment (and the big difference) when Alli and I moved into our first jointly owned house together. So the caravan moves on, and life stages become like mile posts flying by. Alli and I both look forward enormously to Sam and Ella living nearby.
The summer is over, whatever the weather may be doing, and when the evenings became chilly, we started to use the heating regularly for the first time in six months. The end of the month was deluged in rain and wind which pattered on the roof and windows and often woke me up at night. My freelance work rate improved after I was commissioned to rewrite and edit a long philosophical monograph, write a couple of speeches for an African investment company, and present a talk on leadership online to the Ministry of Justice. My nephew George attained the age of grace (sweet 16) and has been happily back at school for some weeks. His brother Joe left for Loughborough and further licence and learning, and their sister Eve returns to Oxford next month.
Yours available from the aptly named space of https://w3w.co/urgent.pronouns.nightcap